4.48 Psychosis

Wed 14th – Mon 26th August 2013


Theodora Hawlin

at 16:03 on 17th Aug 2013



Esne Hick's production of Sarah Kane's final play is a performance that will haunt you long after you leave the theatre. Rather than being overwhelmed by the play's status as a 'suicide note', the group have done an extraordinary job in discerning visible plot lines and narratives within the chaos of Kane's disorder. Florence Brady welcomes us into a cramped underground space, suitably claustrophobic and unsettling.

Starting with a new day, the illusion of the comfortable couple (Brady and Skinner) is soon ruptured by the warped voiceovers that talk of death and despair, shifting in and out of Brady’s consciousness. We move from breakfast to dinner, with flashes of comedy as the characters expose their insecurities instead of their stories, and a waiter (Luke Rollason) serves up grief and suspicion; the cunning contrast of setting and speech creates a disturbing turn. At times the conversation is so naturalistic we feel we are in fact glimpsing backstage.

The frustrated spouse is played perfectly by James Skinner, his effort to leave a voicemail message is particularly powerful. The disintegration on stage from normal speech into distraught and desperate expletives is enhanced by the intermitted atomic voice of a Vodaphone pre-recorded message; this shows the frustration in an arresting performance as tremendous emotion is cut short by the beep of an automated machine.

Similarly the repeated urgings of Freemantle "did it give you relief?" enhance the often rigid associations that accompany self-harm; it's a delicate issue, but deftly handled. The language lives through continual epithets, the rephrasing and repetition continually hammering down on different ideas until we are forced uncomfortably to readdress them. A motif that comes into fruition is of Brady sitting in the dark, illuminated by a single screen, reeling off definitions of "to be accepted" reaching the climactic and—for Kane—unachievable trio: "to be forgiven...to be beloved...to be free".

The constant scene changes and subtle switches in lighting capture the transitions of Brady as she shifts from interaction to isolation, both physically and mentally. She speaks yet no one sees: "validate me, see me, love me". By the end, we do, and the pain is striking. Sitting amongst her friends as they pack away the stage before us, she has become invisible, a shadow of her former self.

The script is unflinching, delving into the recesses of the human conscious, uprooting every morsel of self-doubt and upset to be splayed out before the audience on stage. Superb acting, intelligent staging and phenomenal directing, Kane’s creation whispers at us from the stage: "watch me vanish, watch me" and we do. The play tracks the trajectory of a life being erased. Potent and unsettling, this performance upsets the boundaries of theatre, an upset that exquisitely details the complexities of mental illness.


Zoe Hunter Gordon

at 21:18 on 18th Aug 2013



Sarah Kane’s '4.48 Psychosis' is a difficult play. Surreal, dark and angry, Kane doesn’t pull her punches; this final piece is seen by some as Kane’s suicide note in which she explores her depression and suicidal tendencies unlike ever before. The power of '4.48 Psychosis' ultimately lies in the writing; Kane’s incredible use of language and imagery can transport an audience into her world, a place where her pain becomes understandable. Sadly, DEM Productions’ decision to naturalise Kane’s work, intertwining pieces of everyday dialogue into the script and creating a narrative that the piece arguably original lacked, only demeans Kane’s own script and renders the play strangely powerless.

The play is written on the page as a poem - text attributed to no-one in particular, it is often performed as a one woman play. DEM Production’s lifts this text and intersperses it with everyday situations; dinner parties, weather reports and voicemails cleverly weave a narrative into the piece and giving us a comparison to the lead’s mental illness. Her friends are normal, she is not. It’s an interesting and creative idea; however it only serves to remove the audience from Kane’s illness – the exact opposite of what the original script can achieve.

The existence that Kane has created in 4.48 is one in which the insane becomes almost understandable, attempting to distil depression into language when performed straight can be a remarkable piece of theatre. By creating a dialogue from the text there are hardly any moments where the audience is addressed directly by the lead, meaning we are made to feel like outsiders as opposed to inhabiting this dark space with her. We become part of "normality", like her friends and lover we watch her pain rather than experiencing it with her.

This distancing effect struck me in particular when watching the delivery of one of my favourite monologues in Kane’s work. Perhaps the most famous extract from the play, it begins with the line "It wasn’t for long. I wasn’t there long. But drinking bitter black coffee…" and describes Kane’s time in a mental hospital. This particular extract is full of rage, passion and a deep sense of betrayal which can be incredibly powerful to watch. DEM chose to perform it in a dialogue between the lead and her male lover, immediately forcing the audience to be witness, as opposed to addressed by, these powerful words. The extract lacked almost all of the force and anger it is so famous for, an interesting experiment from DEM, but one that did not pay off.

A bold and new approach to '4.48 Psychosis', I applaud DEM’s creativity in transforming this piece into something naturalistic and new. However, it robs Kane’s text of its raw energy and power and ultimately forces the audience outside of her pain; not what Kane intended.


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